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Miss McIntosh: I have listened carefully to the debate. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), in his debut performance on the Bill, made some interesting comments and I am sure that they were meant to be constructive.
The Minister will appreciate that I received his note only 40 minutes before the beginning of the programme motion, but we have a difficulty with the reverse burden of proof. We are not unsympathetic to his amendments, which would raise the maximum penalty for nuisance parking offences under clauses 3 and 4. However, it was unfortunate that the Minister did not have the benefit of participating in the radio programme yesterday. I, too, value my Sundays and I do not often take part in live radio programmes on that day, but if the Minister had done so he would have appreciated the public's growing concern that the Government are increasingly using fixed penalty notices for a number of offences. Under these clauses they are introducing fixed penalty notices for an environmental crimenuisance parkingand if the amendments are accepted the maximum penalty will be increased. As a lawyer, albeit non-practising, I find that an unhappy situation.
In Committee, I pressed the Minister about the level of evidence. It was against that background that we provided the definition in new clause 6 for the level of
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evidence needed to prove that someone had committed that type of environmental crime. The Minister was not forthcoming in Committee and I am not entirely satisfied with his explanations this afternoon. The situation is deeply unacceptable. The defence against a fixed penalty notice will be seriously weakened and people will have to go to court.
Alun Michael: I am trying to follow the point that the hon. Lady is making. If we are talking about interruptions to Sundays, perhaps I should say that I was able to make the point on "Countryfile" yesterday about how important the Bill will be to people who live in rural areas. However, I do not quite follow her point that there is no defence against fixed penalty notices. If people do not like the fixed penalty notice, they do not have to pay the penalty, but they must then go court and marshal their defence at that point. I am not sure what point she is making. Many people have been affected by the sort of evils that are addressed in the clauses and they want them to be tackled vigorously. Surely the hon. Lady agrees with them.
Alun Michael: I have made the point to the hon. Lady already that these provisions relate to how people can present a defence if there is a prima facie case, not to any reverse burden, which is an inappropriate term to use, although it may be technically correct. These provisions are intended to ensure that people who are not guilty of undertaking the sort of commercial activities that cause the problem are able to demonstrate that they are innocent of the offence.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem is that, although it may be true that the defence is not useable until a court case takes place because someone eventually says, "This is unfair, so I'll go to court", the nature of that defence may have a real effect on the occasions on which and the care with which people issue fixed penalty notices? The worry about fixed penalty notices is that, if they are issued willy-nilly, people are put in an extremely difficult position in deciding whether they should go through all the hassle of going to court and many people will therefore give way. We want to ensure that fixed penalty notices are not issued without due care, and I understand that that is what new clause 6 is supposed to do.
Miss McIntosh: My right hon. Friend puts our case so much more eloquently than I have done. Indeed, that is precisely the point that was made in Committee and to which we allude in this little group of amendments.
We do not know for sure who will issue the fixed penalty notices. Even with community support officers or the police issuing the notices, public concern has been growing about some of the high-handed tactics used and the lack of training given. The Minister will recall that we raised the issue in Committee about precisely what level of local authority official may be able to issue the notices and what specific training they would be given because, although the crime is considerable, level 4 penalties are substantial.
I am mindful of the time, the guillotine and the fact that there will be an opportunity to press the issue in another place, so following this exchange of views, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
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